GILLETTE — The barn was quiet, save for the subtle shuffling of a 2-year-old’s shoes on the soft dirt.
Sunshine flooded through a door on the west side of the building. Sara, a quarter horse that made a career as a pick-up horse for rodeos, waited patiently in the middle of the barn with a two-step pedestal on her left side.
Kelly Stone stood near Sara’s head. Sam Costello was on the right side, and Jamie Hendryx held 2-year-old Dan Bourne’s hand across the dirt.
Dan and his twin brother, Tom, were born 13 weeks early. They weighed 2 and 2.5 pounds, respectively, and have battled development issues all their young lives. Hendryx, an occupational therapist, has worked with Dan since he was 10 months old.
Laura Bourne, the twins’ mom, said Hendryx recommended hippotherapy, a unique approach to physical and emotional therapy that uses horses as a therapeutic conduit for rehabilitative treatment. When he started, Dan would constantly cry, kick and scream and was only able to lie down on the horse’s back because of some physical limitations.
On Tuesday, Dan made his way up the two-step pedestal, was lifted onto Sara’s back, and sat up tall and proud like a seasoned cowboy.
“What we say?” Hendryx asked.
“Walk on,” Dan said, and Sara calmly started walking on the soft dirt.
Hendryx isn’t an equine specialist.
“I was scared of horses three years ago,” she said. “Kelly has got me on a horse a couple of times now, but I’m still a novice rider.”
Hendryx has known Stone for years. Stone is the creator and director of the Sunrise Wellness and Recovery Center in Gillette.
The center, which opened in 2016, helps people learn “wellbriety” through meditation, sobriety and abstinence from substance abuse. Around that same time, Stone and Hendryx met with a client of Hendryx’s about the potential for offering hippotherapy.
Hendryx by no means is a horse person, but she knew that Stone and another friend were. Thus, Ride and Shine Equine Assisted Therapy was born.
“We rode with our one patient the first summer just to make sure we knew what we wanted to do,” Stone said.
In 2019, they have added a handful of new riders as well as a mental health component to the program — lead by Heather Schmelzle — and have added a small adaptive riding aspect as well.
Once Dan was on the horse, the three-person team walked gingerly but intentionally around the barn. They made stops along the way to find puzzle pieces hidden along the railings.
Dan would point from atop the horse to puzzle pieces of zebras, giraffes and other animals and place them on a board that Hendryx held.
For another exercise to strengthen Dan’s core, Costello would hand him bags that would stick to Sara’s saddle with the help of Velcro. Dan would carefully place the bean bags in front of him, to the side and even behind him so he would have to twist his body nearly at a 90-degree angle.
“It’s a very effective and efficient treatment,” Hendryx said. “Every one of our kiddos was struggling with walking, standing or something along those lines. The horse makes it easy to work on all of those goals.”